Cincy, the Nati, the Queen City, the City of Seven Hills, the Queen of the West…there’s a dozen names and more to give the city of Cincinnati.
Nestled on the hilly banks of the Ohio River, Cincinnati is famous for its unique food scene and booming professional sports. Cincinnati is also known for its patchwork of bustling neighborhoods, a gregarious hippo, and a plethora of cultural activities.
Cincinnati may not be at the top of travel lists, but my Midwestern hometown is one you shouldn’t miss. So, let’s take a look at what makes it the Queen City.
1. The city of seven hills
First, let’s talk geography. Cincinnati is said to be built on seven hills, like the ancient city of Rome. Those seven hills — Mount Adams, Walnut Hills, Mount Auburn, Vine Street Hill, College Hill, Fairmount, and Price Hill — help create the diverse patchwork of neighborhoods across the city.
You can enjoy panoramic views of the city from Mount Auburn before a night out in the steep streets of Mount Adams. Or you can catch a glimpse of the city’s architecture and history in Walnut Hills.
2. German heritage
Cincinnati is famous for its German heritage, which presents itself through gastronomy, like the regionally-unique goetta, and annual events, such as Oktoberfest Zinzinnati. The festival is the largest celebration of its kind in the United States.
As for the goetta, this meat-and-grain patty is often served at breakfast. You’ll find it offered at many breakfast joints around the city. It’s a challenge to find a local who has not tried the dish, and though not everyone likes it, it’s an emblem of the city’s German influence.
3. A kaleidoscope of neighborhoods
On and between the seven hills is an array of neighborhoods, which change in character, architecture and tone across the city. Each one offers a different perspective of the city. It’s part of what makes the city so beautiful and unique.
Cincinnati locals are proud of where they live. Wander the food markets and rowhouse-lined streets of Over-the-Rhine or the alternative bars, restaurants and shops of Northside. Head to the quieter, riverside neighborhoods of Riverside, East End and Columbia-Tusculum and you’ll feel like you’re in a different city.
So I’ve talked a lot about it, but what’s so special about the architecture in Cincinnati? Cincinnati is known for some great works of architecture. It boasts impressive structures like the Art Deco-style Union Terminal, the stately Roebling Bridge, and the supposedly-haunted Music Hall, where you can catch orchestras and operas.
But the city’s major architectural works aren’t the only relevant structures. On your tour of the neighborhoods, you’ll see a variety of architectural styles represented in the city’s facades. Houses of the Greek, gothic and renaissance revival styles dominate some of the wealthier historic districts, while other residential areas show off American foursquares, craftsman bungalows and Tudor houses.
Keep an open eye and you’ll spot some of Cincinnati’s peculiarities, like the hillside painted ladies of Columbia-Tusculum and the famously curious Mushroom House in Hyde Park.
5. Flying pigs
In the meantime, you might come across one of the city’s several flying pig statues. The statues are an homage to Cincinnati’s history of pork production. Cincinnati was known as “Porkopolis” in the 1800s for the number of pigs that came through the city, running through the streets in such numbers that people said they were flying.
Beyond the pig statues, Cincinnati flaunts its piggy history in other ways, such as the annual Flying Pig Marathon and other iconography throughout the city’s incredible parks and public spaces.
So you’ve spent a few hours rolling around the city, soaking up the variety of aesthetics and curiosities. What’s next on your agenda?
6. Cincinnati Chili
If you’re hungry, it’s an absolute necessity to try the iconic chili that Cincinnati is known for. More like a sauce than the chili con carne that the name evokes, Cincinnati chili is a staple dish created by Greek immigrants in the 1920s.
Typically served over hot dogs or spaghetti (I know, it sounds strange) and topped with any combination of cheddar cheese, onions, mustard and beans, the chili can be found at a number of restaurants around town.
You can head to the local chain restaurants of Skyline or Gold Star, to one of which Cincinnati locals are quite loyal (Skyline fan here). If franchises aren’t your thing, hit up some of the more local eateries, like Price Hill Chili, Blue Jay Restaurant or Camp Washington Chili. Whether it’s for a quick lunch, a late snack after a night out or a bite to eat at a sports game, you can’t go wrong with Cincinnati chili.
Wait, did I say sports? Cincinnati boasts three professional mens’ sports teams.
7. Cincinnati Reds
Their name has changed over the decades, but the Cincinnati Reds became the first professional baseball team in the 1880s. Due to this legacy, the Reds are the only team that opens each season with a home game.
So head to Great American Ballpark to join in the fun of America’s favorite pastime. The ballpark offers excellent views of the city skyline and the Ohio River. If you get to a Friday night game, make sure to stick around after to watch fireworks light up the night.
8. Cincinnati Bengals
Just on the other side of the city’s new, bustling riverside district, the Banks, lies Paul Brown Stadium, the 65,000-seat venue. Also known as “the Jungle,” this is the home turf of the Cincinnati Bengals.
After their historic appearance in Super Bowl LVI, you don’t want to miss a game if you have the opportunity, or the legendary tailgates that occur in the parking lots before and after home games.
9. FC Cincinnati
The city’s youngest professional sports team, Football Club Cincinnati, went from a new minor league team to a star-studded mens’ professional team in a matter of a few years.
Since the team’s creation in 2016, the team has shattered attendance records and developed a fanatic base of supporters. By its second season, more than 20,000 fans were showing up to each game, and in 2019 the team advanced to the MLS.
After years playing in an outdoor stadium at the University of Cincinnati, the soccer club upgraded to a brand new stadium in the city’s West End neighborhood. In addition to FC Cincinnati games, the stadium has hosted international friendlies and World Cup qualifying games.
If sports aren’t your cup of tea, don’t worry — there’s much more to do in the City of Seven Hills.
10. Historical museums
Whether you like art, natural sciences or history, Cincinnati has a museum for you.
Start with Union Terminal, the refurbished, Art Deco train station that is now home to a host of museums and a head-spinning Omnimax Theater. If you want to learn more about Cincinnati’s history or enjoy fresh takes on natural sciences, it’s worth a trip. But be sure to budget time to marvel at the mosaic murals of the building’s rotunda.
You can find more history at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, which highlights the city’s role in helping enslaved people escape to freedom. It presents the history of slavery and freedom in the United States through a variety of media and challenges its visitors to contribute to social justice in the present and future.
11. Art museums
For the art junkies in the Queen City, you can split an afternoon between two spots downtown, the Contemporary Arts Center and fine arts collection at the Taft Museum of Art, before heading to the Cincinnati Art Museum in Mount Adams.
If flashy neon signs are up your alley, swing by the American Sign Museum for a streetscape-styled museum that displays well-preserved signs from coast to coast and all places in between.
Mix and match these museums as you please — there’s no wrong way to go about exploring the cultural institutions of the city.
12. Street art and murals
Everyone loves a museum, but what’s a city without street art? During a stroll through the city’s urban core, you can take a look at the many murals and street paintings that give color to the city.
Painted by professional artists and community members, Cincinnati is famous for its wide range of murals throughout the city. You can find murals that memorialize iconic citizens, grant insight into the city’s history, or simply provide color, energy and art to all those exploring the streets.
13. Fiona the hippo
The Cincinnati Zoo has long had an internationally-renowned reputation, but that fame has taken on a new role ever since the miraculous birth of Fiona the Hippo.
Born prematurely in 2017, Fiona was cared for by medical professionals from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. She shot to stardom and is now one of the zoo’s most visited residents. Socialized to humans and a lover of the spotlight, Fiona has stolen the city’s heart.
Since 2017, creators have launched shows, books and murals in her name. Dancers have portrayed her in the ballet and she’s even trusted to predict the winner of each year’s Super Bowl.
14. Craft brewery scene
Now that you’ve explored the hilltops and riverside of Cincinnati, it’s time for a drink.
If you’re into beer but can’t get to the city during Oktoberfest, worry not — Cincinnati is known for having a vivid, year-round craft brewery culture. From local breweries like MadTree and Rhinegeist to more widely-known names like Samuel Adams, there’s enough unique beer in Cincinnati to keep you busy for days.
You can hop around at your own pace or join a walking tour that dives into the history of beer brewing in Cincinnati. Either way, catch a flight (as in a sample of several types of beer) at one or more of the many breweries to quench your thirst.
15. Graeter’s ice cream
Last but not least, let’s talk dessert. Your trip to Cincinnati is not complete without a stop at Graeter’s Ice Cream. Find one of the many ice cream parlors across the city and try one of the many homemade ice cream flavors.
Seasonal flavors come and go, so if you’re in Cincinnati during the winter, the cinnamon and peppermint options are fantastic options. But you can’t choose a more classic flavor than the black raspberry chocolate chip. The perfect balance of creamy and sweet with massive dark chocolate chips spread throughout the scoops makes the flavor one of a kind.
In all my global ice cream tourism, I have yet to find a flavor that comes anywhere close to that.
This list only scratches the surface of all there is to see in Cincinnati. Is there anything else that Cincinnati is known for? Let us know in the comments.